Size:

1,539.67 ha (3,804.53 acres)

Grid reference:

NG844543

Map reference:

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Sat in Strathcarron in the breathtaking North West Highlands, Ben Shieldaig rises from the shores of Upper Loch Torridon. Visit for stunning views of a rich and diverse landscape and for a chance to see the unique wildlife from golden eagles to red squirrels.

The site is our very first mountain and is home to two dramatically different ancient woods, survivors of a time when the west coast of Scotland was one big rainforest. One is a patch of ancient native birchwood. It’s a habitat dripping with mosses, layers of liverworts and lush lichens. The second is an area of Caledonian pinewood whose existence can be dated back to the end of the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago.

Over the next 20 years, we plan to restore this landscape. It was once densely forested, while today there are only two areas of woodland cover. Thankfully there is huge potential for native woodland expansion, creating havens for wildlife.

How to get to Ben Shieldaig

Ben Shieldaig is located immediately behind the village of Shieldaig in Wester Ross. It is 30km (19 miles) north-west of Strathcarron and 27km (17 miles) south-west of Kinlochewe in the North West Highlands.

From the south, follow the A896 from Strathcarron. From the north, follow the A896 from Kinlochewe. There is no formal parking outside the village of Shieldaig but there is a lay-by at the south end of Loch Dughail with room for up to four vehicles.

Please be aware that the North Coast 500 follows the A896 road from Applecross to Torridon via Shieldaig which means that traffic on the single-track roads can get busy, especially from May to September.

The nearest train station is at Strathcarron approximately 27km (17 miles) from the estate. There is also a train station at Achnasheen around 42km (26 miles) away. Visit National Rail for more information.

There are several bus services that serve the village of Shieldaig, including a service from Strathcarron. Visit Traveline Scotland for more information.

Facilities and access

There are currently no formal footpaths through the woodland at Ben Shieldaig, though there are various informal and non-waymarked paths to the summit. Most routes are steep and exposed. Walkers are welcome to use existing stiles to cross deer fences but do take care. This is a remote location and conditions on the hills can change rapidly.

There is no formal parking outside the village of Shieldaig but there is a lay-by at the south end of Loch Dughail with room for up to four cars.

There is a public toilet in the village of Shieldaig and customers of Nanny’s Café can use their all-ability facilities.

Wildlife and habitats

Animals

The landscape surrounding Ben Shieldaig is buzzing with wildlife. Bird-lovers can spot nesting golden eagles and buzzards, or seabirds wheeling over the loch. Lucky visitors might get a glimpse of the white-tailed eagle, Britain’s largest raptor that was reintroduced to the region in the 1990s and arrived at Shieldaig in 2009.

Keep an eye, and an ear, out for the woodland and moorland birds including wheatears, cuckoos and spotted flycatchers.

Don’t forget to look to the mud too! You might spot the tracks of some of the mammals that inhabit the area. Otters are known to live in the loch, and pine martens, mountain hares and red squirrels all frequent the estate.

There are also plenty of reptiles and amphibians about, including the smooth newt and common adder.

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Trees, plants and fungi

Due to its high rainfall, mild climate and clean air, Shieldaig is home to a wonderful example of Scotland’s rainforest. Both the birchwood and the pinewood are brimming with some of the world’s rarest lichens, bryophytes, liverworts and fungi.

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Habitats

Not only are the woods at Shieldaig a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), they are also one of the most westerly remnants of the Caledonian pinewoods in Scotland.

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The Woodland Trust Scotland purchased the site in 2019 with the help of members and supporters, who chipped in half of the £1.6 million price-tag including £200,000 from the People’s Postcode Lottery.

History of Ben Shieldaig Estate

The name ‘Shieldaig’ is an old Viking word meaning 'Herring Bay'. Shieldaig village was built to 'raise' and train sailors to fight Napoleon. Building started in 1810, but when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, the men of Shieldaig were never asked to fight. It became a community based on crofting and fishing which continue to this day.

In the 1970s, a devastating fire destroyed much of the vegetation on site, damaging the unique habitats and degrading the mountain.

Moss, lichen and liverworts growing together

Credit: Phil Formby / WTML

Conservation and threats

Ben Shieldaig’s woods are globally important and hugely significant to our culture and wildlife. They support some of the world’s rarest and oldest plants, many of which appeared long before the dinosaurs. Much of what is left of Scotland’s rainforest and the remaining sections of Caledonian pinewood are poorly understood and managed, inadequately protected, highly fragmented and generally in poor and declining condition.

They are under threat from severe over-grazing, choking by non-native invasive species like rhododendron, conversion to conifer plantations, climate change, introduced diseases such as ash dieback, inappropriate development or management and the uncertainty of future support for woodlands.

Aerial view of Ben Shieldaig mountain

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Your support matters

This wood was secured for the future thanks to your response to an urgent appeal. Discover how you helped us bring another incredible place safely under our wing, and what the future holds for Ben Shieldaig. 

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Things to do in Ben Shieldaig